News / USA

Americans in Their 20's Struggle to Get Health Insurance

Michele Gomez is a 23-year-old single mother with no health insurance
Michele Gomez is a 23-year-old single mother with no health insurance
Deborah Block

Democrats in the US Congress are racing to pass health care reform legislation.  Currently, people in their 20s are the largest group in the United States without health insurance. With skyrocketing health care costs, those with low incomes often cannot afford insurance.  Under the legislation, some 30 million uninsured will be able to buy insurance, and some will get government subsidies for it. And that could make health care more affordable.

Michele Gomez is a 23-year-old single mother with no health insurance.  She has a cold and came for medication to the Free Clinic in Arlington, Virginia outside Washington.  Gomez also is having a blood test because she has a heart condition.  

She says because of it, she can only work part-time and she doesn't make enough money to pay for health insurance.

"I need medicine, and sometimes I get heart pains and I have to think about it twice before I go to the hospital because I don't have insurance," said Michele Gomez. "I normally get a big bill and I don't have a way to pay for it."

Nearly half of young adults work part-time and so they are less likely to be offered health insurance at their jobs.  

The U.S. government estimates that 30 percent of young adults are without health coverage, compared with 17 percent of older adults.

Gomez says she is in favor of health insurance reform.  But she says if she is required to pay for even a small part of her insurance, she can't do it.

"I think they should have done this a long time ago," she said. "It's ridiculous how you can't get insurance, especially if you are a U.S. citizen.  I think that should be one of the major priorities is to get insurance for people, especially if they have a low income."

Health officials say it's important to insure young adults even if they have few health problems.  Nancy Pallesen, head of the Arlington Free Clinic, says their issues can become chronic.

"It's very important for these people to have health care, regular health care, and to have preventative kinds of health care because in the future this will save them a lot of anguish," said Nancy Pallesen.

Currently, most insurance plans allow parents to claim their children as dependents until they are 22-years-old. Under the new legislation, young adults will be able to remain on their families' policies until the age of 26.

Ronald Perry works in a grocery store and says health insurance is too expensive for him.   He thinks it should be optional.

"Everybody can make their own decisions and if you choose to have health care you shouldn't be forced to do it at 26 or 30," said Ronald Perry. "If you want it at 45 or 50 you should be able to get it then."

Young adults are more likely to work in small businesses that don't offer health care plans.

Isidro Duran is one of them.  He came to the U.S. from Honduras 10 years ago and works in a small restaurant in Washington.  He says he would like affordable health insurance.

"I am nervous and I am very concerned about it because you never know when you will need it," said Isidro Duran.

Kimlinn Pham, from Vietnam, is a manicurist in a hair salon in Virginia. She hopes health care reform will allow her to buy reasonably priced health insurance.  Pham says even when she's sick she avoids going to the doctor.

"The doctor and hospital are so expensive," said Kimlinn Pham. "I know that they treat you very well.  But later on when you get the bill, you are the one to suffer from the bill.  The doctor won't suffer from that."

Even with new legislation,  the changes in health insurance won't begin for several years.  By that time, some people in their 20s could already be burdened with medical debt and chronic illness.

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